Engagement: Sarah and Mark

Grande Prairie Engagement

Well 2016 ended (literally, the last day of the year!) with an engagement session for Sarah and Mark in my hometown of Grande Prairie, Alberta. It’s a bit of a neat story. Sarah and I have known each other since we were probably 3 years old through play school and our older sisters being Kindergarten pals in school. We grew up making elementary art projects together, gallivanting around school playgrounds, and swimming in the pool (Sarah, being an actual pro swimmer, made her lap around the deep end much easier than me, flailing and bobbing like I did).

As time passed, we went our separate ways and haven’t really spoken for many many many years. So what a pleasant surprise to hear from her about photographing their wedding in 2017! I was so touched and excited and managed to meet up with them over the holiday, which was great! Sarah and Mark are so cute and lovely and were game for anything I suggested, even being jacketless in crazy falling snow and jumping on the spot to stay warm, sitting in the snow and wandering around in the forest. They bounce off of each other so well and are both so sarcastic which is honestly the funniest. They had me laughing like crazy! Hearing them tell me their stories was the best because I could really see and feel their love for each other and did my best to capture that in their photos. Here are some shots from their December 31st engagement session.


 

 


Adventure: Toronto Islands

Several weeks ago I managed to get a day off to take a few hours to go to Toronto Islands! Toronto Islands are a chain of islands just off of the shores of Toronto itself! You have to take a ferry to get out there. It has an airport, summer amusements, beaches, yacht clubs, and get this, some pretty cute old squashed houses! I wasn’t expecting them, for some reason.

I decided to go on one of the chilliest days in late October. I took a ferry across at 3:30. Despite the cold I made sure to stand outside and watch the wake of the boat and the giant city behind me getting a bit smaller as we got closer to the island. Because it’s the off-season, there isn’t much shelter there. So after 3 hours of wandering a bit (I only got through half of the eastern islands because I was taking so many photographs!) I was so cold it was time to hop on a ferry back! I wanted to make sure I got the sunset, and I definitely did. The Toronto skyline is a gorgeous site, I took too many photos! I will definitely be back to the Toronto Islands to check out all the sites I didn’t get to see.

The best part: walking around the back of the island and seeing Lake Ontario look like the ocean, a peaceful still mirror of the sky with giant maple trees dropping their leaves gently into the water.

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Adventure: Kensington Market in Toronto

This past weekend I decided to go outside with my friend Tamara and take a break from schoolwork to take photographs, explore, and learn new things about my neighborhood. I live not too from Kensington Market, which is this crazy neighborhood in Toronto. It originally started as a Jewish neighborhood where small shops started out of the houses; an influx of Caribbean and Chinese presence occurred after WWII and  it has now grown and evolved into a mish mash of great dining, cool little shops, vintage clothing, and intriguing bohemian Rastafarian-inspired places of enterprise. It can get crazy packed but it’s so fun to wander and just stare at people and stores and eat food! For example, I had the most delicious takoyaki (octopus balls) I’ve ever had, just from a little temporary stand in an alley. We also wandered down alleys, found cool graffiti, and all sorts of stuff! I’m excited to get to know this city better. 🙂 Any recommendations for places to go take photographs in Toronto, feel free to let me know!

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Portraits: Nathalie

This past week I went out to Delta in BC for a photoshoot with my friend Nathalie, who wanted to take some photos in her old high school graduation dress before she donated it! I love this dress. The way it looks with sun behind it and its material! So good!

It was great to see a familiar farming landscape in an area so close to were I live! Unfortunately I don’t think that it appears much in the photographs, but I just have to say there are treasure spots in this area!

My favorite location from this day was when we just took a random road and ended up at Deltaport, a huge port where trains and trucks line up for kilometers to deposit their cargo that gets shipped out. The tide was low and we explored out on the mud a bit. The best thing about photos is exploring new areas and seeing how they can add to the person in the photographs. All elements are important! I had a bit of trouble with the placement of the sun at 4 PM, but I got to try out my new external flash and it was incredibly helpful. 🙂

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Technique Tuesday: Shutter Speed

Since I’ve done a previous post on aperture/depth of field, I decided it was time to do one on shutter speed. As I discussed in that post, aperture and shutter speed go hand in hand when creating a photo using the manual setting.

What is Shutter Speed?

Shutter speed is how fast the shutter closes on your lens, ie: the length of time light has to get into your camera to take a photo.

Recap:

Aperture: size of hole that light travels though

ISO: camera sensitivity to light

Shutter speed: length of time light has to get through aperture hole size

Think of the shutter as a set of blinds… they shut at different speeds, deciding how much time light has to hit the “film” in your camera (or in the case of digital cameras, the sensor). The longer these blinds are open, the more light; the quicker they are shut, the less light.

What Does It Look Like on my Camera?

Good question. The shutter speed on your camera is most commonly the fraction, however when you scroll to change the speed and make it slower, it uses the quotation symbol to equal a whole second. When you see 1/200 or 50″, those are both indicative of shutter speeds. But what do they mean? What is the difference? I will tell you!

Shutter speed is counted in fractions of a second (faster) and whole seconds (slower). For example, if you take a photo and your shutter speed is at 1/200, that means your shutter is open for 1/200 of a second when you click that button to take the photo. If you have the shutter speed at, say, 30″, that means the shutter is open for thirty whole seconds; for lengths like that, you need a tripod! It can also be as simple as 1″, or 1 second.

The standard shutter speed is often designated at 1/60 of a second.

Fast Shutter Speeds

The faster your shutter speed is, the more your photos will be “frozen” in time. For example, with a shutter speed of 1/800 of a second (f/4, ISO 200), I got this:

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You can see individual droplets frozen in the air at this speed. The faster your shutter speed, the quicker it catches movement, whether it be water, people, or anything else. The best measurement of testing is water; it’s what I like to use the most when playing around with shutter speed!

This one was taken at 1/4000 of a second (f/5.6 and ISO a crazy 6400) for the effect I wanted:

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This was out in the ocean and I was standing on the beach; it was a cloudy day. Still, you can see individual droplets of water frozen in the air. I played with this for a long time, with all different shutter speeds.

REMEMBER: the shutter speed will affect the look of a photo when used in conjunction with aperture and ISO. For example, if you make your shutter speed fast (1/400), at ISO 200 and leave your aperture at something like f/14, it will be far too dark! Your aperture is too small and will not let enough light in for a shutter speed that fast; imagine it as a tiny hole in a dark little room and for a fleeting second you open a pinhole and then shut it again. The light doesn’t even make it to the back wall! So if you are increasing shutter speed (or decreasing it, for that matter) you MUST remember to compensate with your other settings. Otherwise, your photo will not work. This takes lots of practice and sometimes some guesswork; however, sometimes you get results you never expect and end up delighted with!

Slow Shutter Speed

So now you know what a fast shutter speed looks like: it freezes droplets of rain, can freeze people in the middle of physical activity or movement, and more. Slow shutter speed has the opposite effect. The slower your shutter speed, the smoother the appearance of things: water becomes a smoky glass, people become a blur of activity. People often despair when they see their photos and that people are blurry or not in perfect focus. However, slow shutter speeds can make amazing photos! It naturally adds an element of movement, activity, and liveliness to a photo; it can capture something more real and fleeting rather than simply freezing a moment in time.

Slow shutter speeds are often designated as speeds slower than 1/60 of a second. There comes a point when it is too slow and a tripod must be used. Slow shutter speeds are often used for photos of lightning storms and starry night skies in order to capture everything; however, I have yet to hunker down outside with my tripod and try this out. I can’t wait to though! And when I do you bet I’ll make a post about it.

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This is not the greatest example of a slow shutter speed photograph, however I have fond memories of this moment. Walking beneath a bridge in Arequipa, Peru, at night, and we stumbled onto these young kids, just playing music and dancing with each other. I loved the way the dresses of the girls moved and tried to capture that movement; however right after I took this photo they started laughing and became embarrassed. Oops! The boy is a bit too blurry for my liking but I love the girl spinning her dress, the laughter in the background, just kids dancing for fun… The shutter speed here was 1/13 of a second (f/4, ISO 800).

I like to catch people in motion with slow shutter speeds. Here is another:

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This was again taken in Peru, the night of a festival in Cusco. You can get a feeling of the emotion and movement of people in the setting, and I think the shutter speed helps with this. Not only because it shows the movement of people, but the low lighting is rich and deep, very unlike the lighting would look if I had used flash or a faster shutter speed. Half the reason I use a slow shutter speed will be for the warm lighting that I want to capture. This often means that movement is also shown, which I am okay with. (shutter speed 1/15, f/4, ISO 1600).

If photographing people moving makes you anxious, try it with water!

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This photo was not too slow of a shutter speed (1/50) however it was moving fast enough to catch a blur, and I kept my f stop a smaller size (f/14).

The great thing is seeing how shutter speed, aperture, and ISO all work in concert with each other. When you change one it always means you have to tweak another to get the photo you want (usually).

My challenge to YOU: take your camera and play with shutter speed. First try it on the Tv setting, which is shutter speed priority; this means the camera will figure out the corresponding aperture and ISO for you to get an exposed photograph. Once you figure out that and how shutter speed works on its own, go to manual and play with it and your other settings to see what kind of photos you can make.

Good places to test shutter speeds: rivers and waterfalls, streets with cars, players at sporting events, dances, crowds, parades, and more. In the winter time, try catching snow falling and see how it is! If you are really into it, grab a tripod and set up for a starry sky, northern lights shoot, or even tracing the lights of cars on the street. Let me know how it goes!


Technique Tuesday: Black and White Photography

This Tuesday I’ll be looking at one of my favorites… black and white photography.

The general idea seems pretty straightforward: either you make the setting on your camera black and white or change it in post-processing. However, just like color photos, you should have your creative eye and mind in a black and white setting if you take a photo and plan to make that the outcome. Black and white photography is the original photography and should be taken just as seriously and not as an alternative afterthought.

I love black and white photography. Give me grainy, dirty, smudged, mid-movement black and white photography any day and I will be obsessed with it. Black and white is fun because it allows you to:

  • focus on shape, line
  • focus on composition
  • focus on expression and emotion
  • focus on lighting: shadows and highlights, silhouette
  • focus on texture
  • focus on patterns

In black and white photography, you can’t rely on soft colors or Instagram filters to tell your story. It has to be done with the shapes, the faces, the pure feeling that the photo evokes. And that, my friends, is the best part about photography. Take away all of the tools, all of the technology, and yet you still have the chance to do what photography is all about, and that is tell a story.

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Below I’ve listed some tips for black and white photography. This is not my most complex Technique Tuesday, so I hope you will be able to try out some of these ASAP!

Shoot in RAW

Always shoot in RAW! It serves the same purpose as a negative for film, meaning you can go back and work on it again and again and it won’t lose quality; it’s the highest data image file you can have! Which is good for black and white, as you may need to adjust things like highlights and shadows quite a bit.

WARNING: only shoot in RAW if you have a program on your computer that can edit it! That would be the program your camera with, or any Adobe program (Photoshop, Lightroom, etc.) at least the newest versions.

Low ISO 

Be sure to shoot your photos at a low ISO, even if they are in color. As soon as they are turned black and white, grain becomes much more apparent. Here’s one I took with grain to show you the difference between a low ISO photo and a high ISO.

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You can see the grain in the photo above from a higher ISO I used.

Remember what ISO is: your camera’s sensitivity to light! 200-400 is the ISO for normal daylight and counts as a lower ISO number.

Best Times of Day to Shoot

Black and white photographs actually work best on overcast days. So if you’re not getting the sun you want for dramatic colors, try out some black and white instead! Overcast works best because it stops your photos from being overexposed or too shadowed.

However, this may not work for you if you want a more dramatic lighting situation, which would still work for photogs. Sun flares in black and white can be dramatic and beautiful! However they make a more dramatic landscape (either very dark or very bright) and aren’t great for portraits or for certain types of photographs (some architecture shots or general subject-based photography).

Composition! 

Composition matters SO MUCH in black and white photography. The placement of people, things, and even you when it comes to taking the photo is key. This is when you really have to stretch your brain. Don’t just look at what’s happening in front of you but what makes up the scene. Is that just a door on the side of a building, or is it a minimalist rectangular shaped photo that extends to the building shape? Is that railing just a railing or a pattern to study? Look at architecture as a good starting point: watch for patterns, bold designs, straight lines, simple compositions. Once you start thinking this way, it is almost impossible to stop. I’m like this even when I don’t have my camera on me; it’s a great way to be, because then I remember what catches my eye and I go back later with a camera!

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Texture: Active Skies or Minimalist

It’s important to start learning to look in tone and texture, not color, for black and white photography.

“Active skies” refers to the idea that if you are taking a black and white landscape, it doesn’t always work best with a plain sky. It’ll create a drab photo. It might look beautiful and blue in color, but in black and white it just looks like a flat space, which is not always what one wants. Active skies is a term for an exciting sky with depth, however I also mean it in terms of overall texture in your photograph.

One time this won’t apply is when you are going for a minimalist look, with bare accents and mostly shapes and light as your main tool to create a photograph; this works just fine in some cases as well, of course! There are no limits in photography, only different directions.

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An active sky above adds depth to the photo.

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A rather inactive sky here shows a more minimalist approach to black and white landscape photography with similar-sized subjects.

What Kind of Lighting to Look For

Light is one of the biggest elements in B & W photos. What adds depth and variety to these types of photos is the combination of shadows, highlights, and contrast.

Make sure to keep an eye out for varying shadows because it will add different and dynamic depths to your photos. If you see a good contrast–a white building with a black door, say–this makes for a strong photograph as well. Light is so important to keep an eye on in a photo. Go with your instincts; if it looks like a cool light dynamic against a builiding, or there’s a shadow cutting half across a person’s face to add an element of mystery and you like it, then go for it! Document it!

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In color, this photo was rather flat. But with a quick change to black and white, you can see the shadows pop and add depth to the photograph.

Underexpose 

My favorite technique: underexposure! Do this especially if you have the intention of creating a black and white image; if you don’t do this, there is a high chance of blowing out the photo’s highlights in post-processing. This means that when you play around with the image, your whiter highlights will end up becoming too bright and ruining the photo. Underexposing solves this irritating dilemma.

How to Make Black and White in Post-Processing

This is easy!

In Photoshop, you just go to the Image tab, adjustments, and then change to black and white. From there you can play with brightness, contrast, or shadows + highlights if you feel the inclination. You can also do it on your camera beforehand but it’s not recommended. In post-processing you have much more leeway if it is a color photo that has been changed afterwards.

Secret Tip

One of my favorite things is to use my polarizing filter. It helps cut reflection on objects and reduces the risk of having washed out black and white photos. A polarizing filter is meant to reduce glare (i.e.: turns water clear, skies darker, etc.) but I love to sneak it in for black and whites. This is a bit of a cost but fun to work with!

Now these are all a few quick and easy tips. Post a comment if you have any questions or other black and white ideas! My main point is: start thinking and looking in a way that breaks down what is in front of you to light and shapes. Just try it out! Now go have fun. 🙂

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Technique Tuesday: Wide Angle

Today’s Technique Tuesday focuses on a certain shot type that is fun, dramatic, and creates beautiful landscape photography as well as unique portrait shots! Yes, I am talking about the (often under utilized) wide angle shot.

So what does it mean exactly when you’re chatting with someone and they say “oh, and then I brought my wide angle lens…” and you nod and smile but really wonder “what did they just say?” Let’s look into it!

What is a wide angle lens? 

A wide angle lens is a lens that has a substantially shorter focal length. This means it says something like 35 mm or 25 mm and lower (the lowest without starting a rounding edge–known as a fish eye–is 17 mm). Basically, this shorter focal length allows for a wider view of a shot: perfect for landscapes or for capturing a smaller scene in a limited amount of space.

Truth be told, wide angle lenses are some of my favorite. I bought my Sigma 18mm-200mm zoom when I was in high school. It was the second lens I bought for the sake of diversity. I was too poor for Canon so I bought a Sigma, and let me tell you… it is one of the best purchases I have ever made! I highly recommend Sigma lenses. I’ve had it for 7 years and only now it is starting to clunk a bit, mostly my fault. It has traveled all over the world with me, dealt with sandy deserts in Peru, humid socks-turned-lens-bag in Asia, and more. Unfortunately due to its age I need to start looking into new ones, if anyone has suggestions!

Why do I love it so much? It is so versatile. It really allowed me to work on my landscape photography which I love so much to do. In one move I can go from 18 mm and get an entire scape, and then I can shift and get closer and closer with a few clicks. This allows me to get different perspectives of the same scene much faster. However, the zoom feature is not my favorite part by the wide angle part… the 18 mm!

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My Sigma 18-200 mm resting peacefully.

Downsides: the zoom lens means not as great of photo quality as a prime lens. You can get a smaller zoom (17-55 for example) or go for the wide angle prime lens (a lens that doesn’t zoom). They have the best quality. Any wider than 17/18 and you start to get a fish eye look.

What is a wide angle shot?

Okay so we know what people mean now when they talk about their “wide angle lens”. What about the wide angle shots? As I briefly mentioned above, those are photographs taken when the lens is at a wide angle focal length (anything 35 mm and shorter).

I like them for their dramatic look, as well as the fact that it lets you see everything. As someone from the prairies, I am happiest when I have a big open sky in front of me. The wide angle lens achieves that same feeling with ease! It’s also good for variety when taking photos of people; who wants constant close ups of their face? By the way, this is something I am still working on… 🙂

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This is an example of a wide angle shot. I took this in Jasper 2 years ago. My lens was at its shortest, 18 mm for this. It allowed me to capture some of the reflection of the mountain as well as getting those in the distance, with still enough room for a sky!

How to know when you take a wide angle shot

If you are unsure of what constitutes a wide shot, make sure to watch your lens as you move it (if you have a zoom). You can see the little line changing focal lengths as you rotate the zoom. Try to stick in the 18-35 mm range for wide angle shots. The more you do it the more familiar it becomes until you can scroll through your photos and know by instinct ones you have taken are within that focal range.

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Between the 18 and the 35 constitutes as a wide angle shot.

Examples: Landscape 

There is no doubt that wide angle lenses show off their best in landscape work. Think of dramatic National Geo landscape shots or those with a subject and a vast background behind it. Photojournalism loves wide angle shots. I’ve used some examples below to show what I like about them. All are taken with my Sigma 18-200 mm lens.

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focal length: 24 mm


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focal length: 18 mm

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focal length: 18 mm

Examples: Portraits

This is something still new to me but I know will be lots of fun! It’s a chance to get the location into a shot with your subjects and gives a feeling of gravity. I can’t wait to make more!

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Technically a portrait… focal length: 24 mm

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focal length: 28 mm

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focal length: 18 mm

There’s some information on wide angle lenses and shots. I hope you all go out and experiment with them now! Make sure to use the rule of thirds from a few Tuesdays ago and see how it looks. If you have any questions about the photos, tips, or more, feel free to comment!


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